Struggle to enter through the narrow door. I tell you that many will seek to enter and they will not be able. From the time the master of the house rises and shuts the door, you will begin to stand outside and knock on the door. You will say, “Lord, open to us!” He will answer you, “I do not know you, where you are from.” Then you will say, “We ate and drank in your presence. You taught in our streets!” And he will say to you, “I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from me all you workers of wickedness.”
Luke 13: 24-27
Although the “workers of wickedness” ate and drank in Jesus’ presence, he does not know them nor where they are from. How is this possible? Perhaps an insight to this comes from the very familiar account of the “last judgment” that is offered in Matthew 25. As we well know, there the criterion for entrance into the kingdom is compassionate service to Jesus as he lives in those considered the most marginal of human persons. And the great surprise is that neither those who cared for Jesus nor those who failed to care recognized him. That is, there was no motive in the caring and serving other than the prompting of compassion and love in those who “loved their neighbor as themselves,” in the bond of their shared humanity.
A constant in human experience and history is the power of nepotism. Among the first pieces of received wisdom I can remember as a child was hearing from my father: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” In today’s gospel passage, those who claim admittance to the kingdom do so on the basis of who they know. They are a variant of the “name-droppers” at social occasions. “We ate and drank in your presence. . .” Of course, they are also “members of the family ” who are counting on nepotistic favoritism. But Jesus responds that membership in “the tribe” is not enough. In the gospels, where one “comes from” is not so much a matter of geography or of blood line, but of the “spirit and truth” of one’s heart and motivation.
Humility lies at the core of the spiritual traditions because when we live in the truth of who we are and who God is we constantly experience that we are never entitled to the kingdom by virtue of who we know or what tribe or group or church we belong to. We must always “struggle through the narrow door” of self-knowledge, repentance, and love.
Humility, which is also called lowliness or self-abasement, is an interior bowing of the heart and mind before the transcendent majesty of God. Righteousness requires this, and because of charity the loving heart cannot leave this undone. When a humble, loving person observes that God has served him/her in so humble, loving, and faithful a way, and that God is so powerful, high, and noble, whereas a human being is so poor, small, and lowly, then there arises in his humble heart a feeling of great reverence and veneration toward God. To honor God in all one’s works, whether exterior or interior, becomes the first and dearest work of humility, the sweetest work of charity, and the most fitting work of righteousness. The loving, humble heart cannot pay enough homage either to God or to Christ’ noble humanity and cannot set itself as low as it would like. For this reason it seems to the humble person that he is always falling short in the homage he pays to God and in his own humble service.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, I, iii, a